When celebrities suddenly decide that they’re going to be singers it’s often a cringe-worthy moment even if the results are passable. A list of such moments would not be helpful here but suffice it to say that even a whiff of being already famous will have the cynics sharpening their tongues almost at once:
Enter Hugh Laurie, famed star of the hugely successful TV series House in which he plays an off-beat physician who possesses one of the most convincing American accents ever cultivated by a Brit. (Hugh Laurie is also now rumoured to be the highest paid actor in television). Laurie ofcourse had already achieved success on both sides of the Atlantic in the popular Jeeves and Wooster series and multiple other roles in the UK.
No stranger to music either - he plays the piano and other instruments - Laurie has now come forward with a blues infused cd Let Them Talk."
(Although this new cd is currently available only as an import,it will hopefully be available in the US, September 2011).
Hugh Laurie is keenly aware that he is about to be judged. (Not to get all critical analysis here but even the title seems a bit playful with its layered meanings, amongst which is the assertion that Laurie already knows that he’s a skinny white boy and a privelaged one at that - but he simply doesn’t see the relevance when the music itself is so important) And actually, Laurie must be given major props for addressing this issue upfront; he actually states on hughlaurieblues.com: "I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. You may as well know this now. I’ve never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar. No gypsy woman said anything to my mother when I was born and there’s no hellhound on my trail, as far as I can judge. Let this record show that I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south.”
Clearly, he has made this album for his own enjoyment - but with sincere, suitable reverence - and frankly, he’s done a good job.
The song choices are varied, unpredictable and quite gutsy. With the help of key artists such as Irma Thomas, Dr.John and the careful, passionate production of Joe Henry, Laurie has chosen well to help his project along. (Tom Jones is also present on the album and yes - it's *that* Tom Jones!)
St.James Infirmary is a well covered classic but most would agree, surely, belongs to Louis Armstrong. Louis’version is slow, majestic and sashaying and Laurie is wise enough not to try and copy. But with his considerable skill as a piano player, Laurie provides a slow, sweet and torturously seductive beginning before things start to swell and roll into something that is quite different. It’s impressive.
Baby, please make a change is a catchy, sexy number that is basically owned by Tom Jones - he does an outstanding job at making it sizzle (listen up for the way he says “please!”) and I especially enjoy the undulating snake charmer riffs happenning in the background on this one ...
Irma Thomas taps in just the right amount of sweetener with gentle back-up vocals.
I totally understand that there are purists out there who are going to spurn this cd right from the start because of its audacity - and certainly, on a few songs his vocals do miss the mark, I cannot lie -but I would still encourage you to sample the album before you get your knives out. Laurie has done a very good job of accomplishing what he sets out as his goal. He loves the blues -genuinely - and if he brings that love to a broader audience, then I think he’ll be pleased.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I reviewed this cd from a friend's playlist